Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Study THE PRESENCE-DRIVEN CHURCH with Me this Winter!

 



LEADING THE PRESENCE-DRIVEN CHURCH 

RENEWAL SCHOOL OF MINISTRY

Instructor – John Piippo, PhD (Northwestern University)

Purpose: The purpose of this class is to introduce students to Presence-Driven Church Leadership.

Method: I will teach out of my book Leading the Presence-DrivenChurch. Please purchase this book and read it prior to the class. (Or, begin reading it.)

The class will include individual times of praying. I have written about prayer in my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

The class will be interactive lecture, using powerpoint slides, to include discussion and questions. I will email students my presentations.

My home church is a Presence-Driven Church. I will share examples of leadership from my church context.

Requirements:

            Attend the class.

            Read the book as supplemental to the class.

Throughout the class – memorize Ps. 23, and meditate on it in your praying times.

Write a one-page paper describing your experience of God’s presence in our class, and in your times of praying. Type the paper and send to me in a Word file. Due date – .Monday, Feb. 22.

Send to: johnpiippo@msn.com.

Evaluation (pass/fail) based on class attendance, participation, taking the times of prayer, and the one-page paper.

John Piippo

johnpiippo@msn.com

johnpiippo.com (my blog)

734-731-1709 (cell)


REGISTRATION COMING SOON AT hsrm.org


The Discipline of Gratitude Thwarts Catastrophic Thinking

Monroe County

I'm enjoying reading Loving God with Your Mind: Essays in Honor of J. P. Moreland. It's only $2.99 on Kindle! 

In his concluding remarks, J.P. has some important things to say, for the future of the Church, and its leaders. I was especially helped by his comments on practicing the discipline of thanksgiving. He writes:

"I practice the discipline of gratitude. Due to my heredity and upbringing, I have a predisposition to anxiety and depression. One way to avoid these is to train yourself to see the glass half full and not half empty, that is, to habitualize a positive, thankful approach to life. And the best way to do that involves a negative and a positive step. Negatively, learn to spot early on any catastrophizing or totalizing thoughts you have in which you take fears and so forth, blow them up out of proportion, and engage in fearful, negative self-talk. When you spot the negative thought, tell yourself that it isn’t true, that it is overstated, and seek to undermine the thought. Then, positively, turn to God in prayer and thank Him for, say, five to six things in your life, ranging from little things like the taste of coffee to large things like friends and family. I will do this around one hundred times a day, and by now, such expressions of gratitude have become a habit and they have colored my perception of life. The discipline of gratitude keeps one from becoming sour on life and is very, very life giving." (p. 225) 

In Philippians 4 Paul tells Jesus-followers to "not be anxious for anything. (v. 6) The biblical word for 'anxious' is often used in contexts where persecution is happening. For example, in Matthew 10:19, where Jesus counsels his disciples. He said, "When they arrest you, do not be anxious about what to say or how to say it."

When Paul counsels the Philippian Christians to not be anxious, it's not like he is sitting down to a sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner. He's in prison! The context is: persecution! These Jesus-followers were suffering under opposition fro their pagan neighbors, just as Paul and Silas had suffered when among them (Acts 16:19-24; Phil. 1:28-30).

I know what worry and anxiety are like. I have, in troubling times, felt consumed by them. So I ask - how realistic is it to be told “Be anxious about nothing?” Paul’s answer, and his experiential reality, is found in his rich, ongoing prayer life. He writes: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

I have proof that this works, (following Henri Nouwen, in his book Gracias!): When I don’t pray I am more easily filled with worry, and fear. In the act of praying I enter into the caregiving of the Great Physician, who dials down the anxiety.

In everyday prayer-conferencing with God, I present my requests to him. I lay my burdens before him (See 1 Peter 5:7). I have a Father God who loves me, in whom I trust. Where there is trust, there is neither worry nor anxiety. A person with a praying life grows in trust, and diminishes in anxiety. A praying person discovers, experientially, that trust and anxiety are inversely proportionate. 

Paul writes that our prayers should be accompanied “with thanksgiving.” Ben Witherington writes: “Paul believes there is much to be said for praying in the right spirit or frame of mind.” This is significant for the Roman Philippians, since pagan prayers did not include thanksgiving. Roman prayers were often fearful, bargaining prayers, not based on a relationship with some loving god.

Witherington adds: “Prayer with the attitude of thanksgiving is a stress-buster.”

John Wesley said that thanksgiving is the surest evidence of a soul free from anxiety.

J. P. Moreland counsels that the discipline of gratitude thwarts catastrophic thinking.

The antidote for worry and anxiety is: praying, with thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

An Atheist Tries to be Thankful to Something

(Flowers in my front yard)

I often have a feeling, a sense, of gratitude that leads me to say, "thank you." I experience existential thankfulness for life, for being alive. My very existence is a gift. 

As a Christian theist my words of thanksgiving are addressed to God. God, thank You... so very much! 


For an atheist things are different.

Ronald Aronson, Professor of the History of Ideas at Wayne State University, wrote an essay called "Thank Who Very Much?" The reason for the question mark is that, as an atheist, Aronson feels "thankful," but because God does not exist he wonders just who or what he should thank.


Aronson believes a person can be legitimately thankful without either: a) belief in a God; or b) falling into existentialist absurdity. What's his alternative?


He writes: "Think of the sun's warmth. After all, the sun is one of those forces that make possible the natural world, plant life, even our very existence. It may not mean anything to us personally, but the warmth on our face means, tells us, a great deal. All of life on earth has evolved in relation to this source of heat and light, we human beings included. We are because of, and in our own millennial adaptation to, the sun and other fundamental forces."


So? For Aronson, one can feel gratitude by "acknowledging one of our most intimate if impersonal relationships, with the cosmic and natural forces that make us possible." An atheist can show gratitude "to larger and impersonal forces." Because "we derive our existence from, and belong to, both natural forces and generations that preceded us, ... it is just possible that we will often feel connected [to such forces and generations], and often grateful."


Aronson says that when we gather together with friends on one of those snuggly holiday nights, we may be overcome by "a warm, joyous, comfortable feeling, even a moment of well-being - but to whom or to what?" The answer is: "Obviously, to natural forces and processes that have made our own life, and this reunion, possible."


So, thank you strong force, thank you weak force, thank you electromagnetic force, than you gravity, thank you evolution. Thank you particles, protons, neutrons, electron, quarks, and dark matter. 


Good night moon.

For me, this attempt to find some object of gratitude sans God doesn't work. I'll take the following dichotomy: either God, or Camus-ian absurdity. Aronson's idea sounds like a spiritless animism (which is, of course, a contradiction). 


Thankfulness, if it is to have any meaning at all, requires inter-personality. I experience innumerable moments of gratitude, but have never felt like thanking the wall of my house for holding up the roof. Thanking "impersonal forces," no matter how "large" they are, is no different than walking outside and thanking your lawn for being green. See again Camus, Sartre, and a host of atheistic existentialists who write on the absurdity of moral feelings, purposive feelings, and so on.


To say "Thank you" only makes sense if there is someone who can or could have responded, "You are welcome."


Aronson the atheist feels thankful. I do not doubt this. As an atheist, he doesn't want his thankful feelings to be absurd. But thanking impersonal forces is absurd, like thanking your stuffed teddy bear for loving you. 


The raw truth remains: No God = no ultimate meaning. Such is the logic of atheism, on which there is nothing, no one, to thank.

Gratitude Links + Thanksgiving Declarations

 This is especially for my Redeemer family.  :) 

***

Gratitude is greater than bitterness. Thankfulness is better than resentment. 


Colossians 3:15 says:

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.

A heart of thankfulness positively affects one’s entire being. Some scientific studies confirm this. Here are some of them.

From “Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier” (Harvard Medical School)

  • “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
  • Dr. Martin Seligman (University of Pennsylvania) says most studies on showing gratitude to others support an association between gratitude and an individual’s well-being.
  • Gratitude can improve relationships. “For example, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.
  • Gratitude is associated with emotional maturity.
  • “Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier, or thinking they can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.”

Here are some ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis.
·        Write a thank-you note.
·        Thank someone mentally. (“It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.”)
·        Keep a gratitude journal. I make lists of things I am thankful for and carry them with me.
·        Count your blessings.
·        Pray. “People who are religious can use prayer to cultivate gratitude.”


Research reveals that gratitude can have these benefits.

  • ·        Gratitude opens the door to more relationships.
  • ·        Gratitude improves physical health. “Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and they report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences.”
  • ·        Gratitude improves psychological health. “Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.
  • ·        Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. “Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, even when others behave less kind, according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.”
  • ·        Grateful people sleep better. “Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer." 
  • ·        Gratitude improves self-esteem.(Acc. to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology.)
  • ·        Gratitude increases mental strength. (Acc. to a 2006 study in Behavior Research and Therapy, and a 2003 study in the Journal of Personality and social Psychology.


From “Giving Thanks: The Benefits of Gratitude” (Psychology Today)
·        
Psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough “point out the benefits of expressing gratitude as ranging from better physical health to improved mental alertness. People who express gratitude also are more likely to offer emotional support to others.

·        “Expressing gratitude in your daily life might even have a protective effect on staving off certain forms of psychological disorders. In a review article published this past March (see below), researchers found that habitually focusing on and appreciating the positive aspects of life is related to a generally higher level of psychological well-being and a lower risk of certain forms of psychopathology.
·        Increase your gratitude-ability by looking for small things to be thankful for.
From “Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude” (University of Berkeley)

·        It’s easy to take gratitude for granted. “That might be why so many people have dismissed gratitude as simple, obvious, and unworthy of serious attention. But that’s starting to change. Recently scientists have begun to chart a course of research aimed at understanding gratitude and the circumstances in which it flourishes or diminishes.”
·        Recent studies on people who practice thankfulness consistently report a number of benefits:
·        Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure;
·        Higher levels of positive emotions;
·        More joy, optimism, and happiness;
·        Acting with more generosity and compassion;
·        Feeling less lonely and isolated.

From “Thanksgiving, Gratitude, and Mental Health” (Psychiatry Advisor)
Gratitude can have a positive effect on a person’s emotions in four significant ways.

·        First, gratitude magnifies positive emotions by helping us to appreciate the value in something; thus gaining more benefit from it.  

·        Second, it blocks toxic, negative emotions, such as envy, resentment, and regret - emotions that can destroy happiness.  

·        Third, gratitude fosters resiliency.

·        And lastly, gratitude promotes self worth. 


·        
  • Gratitude is good for your heart. “According to a recent study at the University of California, San Diego, being mindful of the things you're thankful for each day actually lowers inflammation in the heart and improves rhythm. Researchers looked at a group of adults with existing heart issues and had some keep a gratitude journal. After just two months, they found that the grateful group actually showed improved heart health.”
  • ·        You’ll smarten up. “Teens who actively practiced an attitude of gratitude had higher GPAs than their ungrateful counterparts, says research published in the Journal of Happiness Studies.”
  • ·         It’s good for your relationships. “Expressing gratitude instead of frustration will do more than just smooth things over—it will actually help your emotional health. Expressing and attitude of gratitude raises levels of empathy and abolishes any desire to get even, found researchers at the University of Kentucky.”
  • ·        You’ll sleep more soundly. “ Writing in a gratitude journal before turning in will help you get a longer, deeper night's sleep, says a study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being.”

*****
DECLARATIONS of THANKSGIVING

THE SCRIPTURE

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)

THE DECLARATIONS
    
My heart is filled with thankfulness because I am encountering God’s goodness and enduring love. (1 Chronicles 16:34)
·       As I listen to worship music I find I cannot stop giving thanks to God. (2 Chronicles 5:13)
·       As I share with others what God is doing in my life, my gratitude overflows onto them. (Psalm 9:1)
·       Today I am approaching God with thanksgiving, music, and songs. (Psalm 95:2)
·       I never fail to remember how God has rescued me. (Psalm 118:21)
·       Sometimes I wake in the night and find myself saying “Thank you” to God. (Psalm 119:62)
·       I see God transforming deserts into gardens, causing joy and gladness to flourish in my soul. (Isaiah 51:3)
·       I am being supernaturally delivered from sin and darkness. (Romans 7:25)
·       I live each day with a victorious mindset. (1 Corinthians 15:57)
·       An ocean of God’s grace is overwhelming me, causing an overflow of thanksgiving that glorifies God. (2 Corinthians 4:15)
·       God is using me to supply the needs of the Lord’s people, resulting in many expressions of thanks to God. (2 Corinthians 9:12)
·       As I remember my brothers and sisters my soul is saturated with prayers of thanks for them. (Ephesians 1:16)


Saturday, November 28, 2020

Prayer, Poverty, and Thanksgiving

A meal of rice and vegetables in Kenya
I embarrassed myself when I was in Kenya. 

I was leading a Pastor’s Conference in Eldoret, with sixty wonderful men and women from Kenya and Uganda. They were part of New Life Mission, a network of over 150 churches in Kenya and Uganda. 


We ate many meals together. This was real Kenyan food – vegetables, cooked raw bananas, rice, maize… I loved it!


I noticed many of the pastors taking very full plates of food. A lot more than I took. I made a joke, saying “Kenyans and Ugandans eat a lot, but still are slim and run so fast!” My host, Cliff, later told me the reason they load their plates with food is because they only eat two meals a day. When they have the opportunity, they eat a lot.


Inwardly I sank. Who am I, that I am so out of touch? 


The prayers of many Kenyans and Ugandans are for food to eat, today. I, on the other hand, fight overeating. My problem is not securing my next meal. It's that there is so much food available, and I approach our American Thanksgiving Day hoping I do not overeat.


I live the land of over-plenty, over-eating, and struggling to diet. In the midst of abundance, I am being processed by God. Here are some things God is showing me. 


1. I am no longer to see someone who is foodless and thank God that I have food. I am to thank God for food, for a roof over my head, for clothing. But this thanks is not to come at the expense of someone else’s poverty. There is something wrong about this. It uses another person’s bondage as an occasion for my thanksgiving. 


Jesus never looked on sick or hungry people and said, “Thank God that I am God and not like these sick people.” Instead, he had compassion on them. Actually, he became one of them, for “the Son of Man had no roof over his head.” 


My focus must be on my own need for God’s mercy, rather than giving thanks that I am not among the mercy-deprived. I am not to be like the Pharisee who prayed, “I thank you God that I am not like these other people.”


2. If this thought comes to me - "Thank God that I have more than these poor people"  - I must assume this is God calling me to help. Why would God show me someone poorer than I as a way to make me give thanks? Authentic thankfulness results in overflowing, sacrificial giving. To those who have much and thank God for it, much is expected. Thankfulness is hypocritical and meaningless if it does not overflow to others. Pure Pharisaic “thankfulness” thanks God that I am not poor; true thankfulness to God impacts the poor. Self-centered gratefulness is faux-gratitude.


3. At one of our recent worship gatherings God was speaking to  me about such things. It was a beautiful time of intentional thanksgiving to God for how he has blessed us as a church family. That day God told me, “John, when you see someone who has nothing, and then give thanks for what you have that they don’t have, that is the spirit of poverty on you.”


A spirit of poverty, a spirit of “lack,” whispers to me, “You do not have enough.” This heart of not-enough-ness, when it sees someone worse off than me, feels thankful. This is the spirit of poverty’s solution to my dilemma; viz., to keep me perpetually enslaved to a poverty mentality by comparing me with others. 


Some drive new cars and I feel deprived; some have no car and I feel thankful. A spirit of poverty is never satiated, and in this way it continuously punishes. 


Feeling thankful when I see someone who has no food comes from feeling I do not have enough. One thinks, “Whew, I’m not so bad off after all!” We only say words like that when we feel “bad off.” 


Real thanksgiving has nothing to do with any of this. I’ve been living under a spirit of poverty, and renounce it.


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My two books are: